We’ve known each other a long time, My Dear Mom Friend. So long, in fact, that we’ve been together as our older children have grown from preschoolers to high schoolers. Your youngest and my youngest are in the same grade, both at the same local day school. And therein lies the problem. Your son. Your son is a total schmuck, My Dear Mom Friend, and I hold you responsible.
Do you remember, My Dear Mom Friend, a while back when your child walked into my house and saw all of my son’s school work proudly displayed on our kitchen bulletin board? Do you recall what your little son said?
You probably don’t, but I certainly do. He commented loudly to my son, “You only have ten spelling words? Everyone else has twenty. I always get them all right but you don’t.”
There were many things I wanted to say at that moment. I really wanted to say, “I know that, don’t you think I know that? Don’t you think my son knows that? Do you think by making that announcement in my house in front of my son and myself that I will like you more than my own child or that I will be so impressed with you that I will say that I wish my son was like you because academics come easily to you and not to my son?”
Instead, I said, “Everyone is different, and that’s so nice that you do so well.” I wanted to model for my son how to handle a difficult situation with grace.
Oh, and thanks so much, My Dear Mom Friend, for standing there silently right next to your son as he made that delightful comment. I assume your silence indicates your pride in your offspring. If my son had ever made a comment like that, which by the way, he never would because I actually teach my children about respect and difference and understanding and compassion and kindness, I would have been so ashamed. I would have personally apologized profusely, to your son and to you, and I would have had a long talk with my son once we were home. But you were silent.
Have you noticed, My Dear Mom Friend, that we have not been going to the same shul that you attend weekly, though we used to? You know, the shul where we met, where our children went to preschool together. Have you missed us? Do you want to know the reason for our absence? Your son.
He steals my son’s snacks, the ones I send with him because he can’t eat the food that is served at kiddush due to his food allergies. Your son has no food allergies. If anyone else dares to play with my son, your little mensch will threaten them with his wrath and tell them that they are idiots for hanging out with my child. He’ll bribe them to leave, promising them the treats that he stole from my son’s snack box. He tells my son that he is stupid for everything he says or does. Then, sometimes, he’ll invite my son to “play” with him and others just to make sure that he has a public forum in which to mock my child. He’ll tell my son to meet him outside on the playground, then never show up after making sure that the doors back inside are locked. I once spent twenty minutes searching for my child in a panic, while my son was frantically trying to find a way back inside, all while your angel looked me in the eye and told me he had no idea where my boy could possibly be. I know that somehow you are unaware of all of this, My Dear Mom Friend, but we’ve had to choose a new location for G-d to hear our prayers because of your son.
Every single day, My Dear Mom Friend, my child comes home from school angry and in tears about something your son did or said. Many mornings my boy doesn’t want to go to school because he is afraid to find out what your son is going to do or say to him that day. Yesterday while waiting in the carpool pickup area, your son whispered to my son, “You have no friends. Everyone hates you. I have loads of friends and you never will.” The day before that, your son stopped by my son’s desk under the guise of going to the pencil sharpener, and laughed out loud that my son was struggling and had only completed a few problems while your little genius had finished the entire assignment. Last week your pride and joy tackled my boy during recess with the help of a few other thugs, put snow in the hood of his coat and then shoved the hood full of snow onto his head. They all laughed and ran off when my son cried.
This is typical. I hear these stories every day. I was even documenting the school incidents for a while, in order to have solid examples to provide, should the opportunity to share them ever arise. What stories does your son tell you about school, My Dear Mom Friend? Does he tell you any of this? Everything at school happens when the teachers aren’t looking, when they’re out of earshot. Your child is the perfect angel when a teacher or administrator is nearby.
No adult at school ever believes my child when he tells them what happens. They can’t imagine that your child could ever be mean. Of course not. You pay full tuition, we get financial aid. You’re an important member of the parent organization, you give so much of your time and money to the school. Everyone knows you and your children. Your child doesn’t require any extra academic assistance that I am always requesting for my son. You have power that my family lacks. So of course no one believes that the situation is serious and warrants their attention. But no worries, My Dear Mom Friend, my child will be attending a different school next year. He needs to get away from your son.
There was a moment, a few months ago, My Dear Mom Friend, when I had a glimmer of hope that maybe this situation would finally end. My very shy son, completely on his own, bravely approached you at shul, My Dear Mom Friend, and told you that your son was being mean to him. I had no idea he was going to do that, I didn’t tell him to do that, I didn’t give him the words to say, and I was so very impressed with my little boy. I was an unexpected witness to the scene, unbeknownst to both you and my son. You seemed to react well, you seemed surprised, yet calm, and you promised my sweet, innocent, trusting boy that you would speak to your son about the situation.
The next week you invited our whole family over for Shabbat lunch. We came. Yes, it was lovely, My Dear Mom Friend, though somehow you’d “forgotten” about our food allergies and there was only one thing we could eat. And while your son was clearly on his best behavior, he didn’t seem happy to have to spend time with my son. So there were no problems that we could see or hear, but it was a bit awkward. My son didn’t tell me much about it, but words don’t come easily to him. Your son doesn’t seem to ever stop talking, does he? Too bad he never speaks the truth.
I was witness to your son’s amazing ability to lie soon after we visited your house, My Dear Mom Friend. I invited your son to come over to our house for a playdate, because all the advice for stopping a bully suggests working to develop a friendship between your child and the bully. My son wasn’t too keen on this idea, but I assured him I wouldn’t leave him alone with your son. I don’t trust him, that son of yours. So I spent the whole time watching him closely and eavesdropping when the boys were in a different room. I heard your son mock my boy, I heard him say, “This isn’t fun because of YOU!” right before he destroyed the game they had been playing. When I so innocently walked into the room and asked if everything was okay, my son was quiet, with tears ready to spill out, but your son was all smiles and cheery. “Everything’s great!” he told me. “We’re having so much fun!.” It’s a known truth that bullies often retaliate after being ratted out.
I have debated, ad infinitum, My Dear Mom Friend, how to discuss this with you. Maybe we could have coffee together and I could frame it as just a chat about the struggles of parenting, a deep, meaningful mom-to-mom talk. We’ve known each other for so many years. We were pregnant together. We’ve laughed together. We have a shared history and in many ways we are very similar. But because we have been so close, I do know that while our lives intersect in many ways, our values are not well aligned. I suspect that a conversation between us, no matter where it happened or how it was presented, would be perfectly cordial. In a best case scenario, you’d apologize and things might change for a brief period of time. But then everything would go back to the way it has been for the past five years. I’m not even sure it would be worth the effort on my part. Even if the situation improved briefly, it would never be permanently better, because, My Dear Mom Friend, I know what you really believe deep inside.
You, My Dear Mom Friend, want your children to be the best, to be better than everyone else. You’re proud of your children, you like to tell others about their accomplishments, and you’ll boast to anyone near enough to have to listen. It seems to me that your son has absorbed and integrated this message quite well. I’ve heard the mocking jokes made in your home about others. You laugh when your children tell stories of how badly others did on exams that they aced. Has my son been a person your whole family has laughed about? Your son is bigger than others his age, he’s brash, fast, bold, athletic, and loud. And of course, school is easy. He is, in essence, the complete opposite of my gentle boy, who is smaller than others, has learning disabilities, and struggles in school.
I’ve been an elementary school teacher for twenty-five years, and I’ve almost never met a bully who came from a kind, gentle, and respectful home. There are exceptions, but generally, children learn how to behave from the models with whom they live, and it’s perfectly clear what kind of modeling you do for your son. You, My Dear Mom Friend, have modeled how to be arrogant, cruel, and deceitful. Your son is your greatest accomplishment.
And my son? My son is kind. He is loving, and gentle, and nurturing. He has a wonderful sense of humor and he is an incredibly hard worker. He inspires me to be a better person every single day of my life. He deserves more than a childhood lived in fear of a bully.
So yes, My Dear Mom Friend, I blame you for your son’s behavior. I blame you for creating the one who torments my child, and I hate you for it.